Like water for the desert, New Media for New Mexico

Installation: “Womanhouse” (1972)

Instead of writing about an individual installation artist, this time I am going to write about a seminal installation event: “Womanhouse,” which was exhibited in Los Angeles, California, in 1972. Below is a photo of the artists.


I’ve heard this installation referred to as “the first feminist exhibit,” which I am not going to research to see if this is indeed true, but it was a major feminist exhibition for its time. It was organized by Judy Chicago and Miriam Shapiro, who together founded  the CalArts Feminist Art Program. Judy Chicago would later become well known for her most famous installation, “Dinner Party,” which is worth looking up on its own.

However, I chose to write about this piece because of its collaborative nature and its location. The artists chose a dilapidated house in LA destined for demolition and took it over for the installation. Twenty-one women each chose one room to take over for her individual work.

womanhouse closet


The installation was clearly wrapped in very tightly with the location; it would have required a lot of adjustments to do it somewhere else. There were also performances as part of its monthlong exhibition.

The idea behind this installation – that women have been tied domestically to the home for thousands of years and this bears illumination – is one that still resonates. Most women I know still do the bulk of housework and care for domestic matters way more than their male partners, if they have one. Even single women I know base their identity somewhat on the domestic abilities. Clearly, the artists involved in this exhibit understood that very well.

The exhibition of this installation was open to women only on the first day. I wish I could have been there. It hadn’t occurred to me to make any exhibition of my own work available to a selection of the population, and the idea of doing that fits well conceptually with installation work, which bucks by definition the traditional hanging on a white wall with gazing passersby type of exhibition. Installations draw in the viewer to the interior, to a total experience, and often the viewer’s participation changes the particulars or the tenor of the exhibit.

There is a documentary about this exhibit, and I would really like to see it.  Johanna  Demetrakas is the filmmaker, it came out in 1974, and is simply called, “Womanhouse.”

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